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Michigan Schools Can Demand Removal of Prohibited Subjects From Collective Bargaining Agreements

May 23, 2016

In Ionia Public Schools v Ionia Education Association, No. 325413 (May 12, 2016), the Michigan Court of Appeals ("COA") affirmed a Michigan Employment Relations Commission ("MERC") decision and order that ruled Michigan schools have a right to demand prohibited subjects be removed from successor collective bargaining agreements ("CBA"). Section 15(3) of the Public Employment Relations Act ("PERA") lists the subjects a public school employer and union are prohibited from collective bargaining over (MCL 423.215(3)). These prohibited subjects are "within the sole authority of the public school employer to decide." MCL 423.215(4).

During their negotiations for a successor collective bargaining agreement, the Ionia Public Schools' ("IPS") presented the Ionia Education Association ("IEA") a list of forty-five (45) sections in the parties' soon-to-be expired Collective Bargaining Agreement that IPS believed pertained to prohibited subjects of bargaining. However, the IEA refused to discuss the list of prohibited subjects or IPS' CBA proposals. Instead, the IEA insisted that the sections containing prohibited subjects remain in the CBA.

As a result, both parties filed unfair labor practice ("ULP") charges with MERC for bad faith bargaining. MERC ultimately ruled IPS had no obligation to bargain over the prohibited subjects at issue. In contrast, the IEA failed to bargain in good faith by refusing to discuss whether the CBA sections were prohibited and by insisting on their inclusion in the successor CBA.

On appeal, the IEA essentially argued the parties should take a "wait and see" approach since nothing in PERA prohibits parties from entering into a CBA with prohibited subjects and any provisions related to a prohibited subject would be unenforceable.

The Court of Appeals rejected the IEA's argument, citing to Calhoun IEA v Calhoun ISD, No. 32873, ___ Mich App ___ (Jan. 7, 2016), which reached the same conclusion on similar facts. Although the parties were free to discuss the prohibited subjects, once IPS informed the IEA of its decision to exclude the prohibited subjects, the IEA had no right to demand that the prohibited terms automatically rollover into the successor CBA. Further, the IEA's categorical refusal to enter into an agreement without the prohibited terms and its insistence that the prohibited terms could not be removed from the CBA constituted an act of bad faith bargaining. IPS did not have to bargain to an impasse over removing prohibited subjects from a CBA.

Ionia Public Schools provides public school employers with guidance on how to lawfully remove prohibited subjects of bargaining from successor CBAs. If you have any questions regarding the Ionia Public Schools case, please consult your Clark Hill educational practice attorney. 

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